Vincent B. LoCoco – Author

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Ernest Hemingway inspired by Artists

In 1958, Journalist George Plimpton in his Art of Fiction series sat down with author Ernest Hemingway in a lengthy interview. One of the questions he asked of the great American writer was who inspired him. I find his response surprising.

Plimpton:  Who would you say are your literary forebears, those you have learned the most from?

Hemingway: Mark Twain, Flaubert, Stendhal, Bach, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Andrew Marvell, John Donne, Maupassant, the good Kipling, Thoreau, Captain Marryat, Shakespeare, Mozart, Quevedo, Dante, Virgil, Tintoretto, Hieronymus Bosch, Brueghel, Patinir, Goya, Giotto, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, San Juan de la Cruz, Góngora—it would take a day to remember everyone. Then it would sound as though I were claiming an erudition I did not possess instead of trying to remember all the people who have been an influence on my life and work. This isn’t an old dull question. It is a very good but a solemn question and requires an examination of conscience. I put in painters, or started to, because I learn as much from painters about how to write as from writers. You ask how this is done? It would take another day of explaining. I should think what one learns from composers and from the study of harmony and counterpoint would be obvious.

What is amazing are the composers and artists Hemingway mentions that he considers as integral to his life’s work. Writing involves the totality of one’s life. Writers almost always answer that question with just a list of other writers they like. I love how Hemingway goes outside the literary world and names other types of artist who have all inspired him.

Chip LoCoco

Most Popular Italian Christmas Carol

One of the most popular Christmas carols in Italy is Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle. (From Starry Skies Descending). 

The carol was written in December, 1744 in NOLA. (No – not New Orleans, but NOLA Italy.) It was written by Saint Alphonsus Liguri, the founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. It was written in the style of Zampogna (bagpipe) music.

The original carol was written in Liguri’s native Neapolitan.  Pope Pius IX, in 1870, translated the words to Italian, which is what we hear today.

The carol took Italy by storm. The Opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi, is reported to have said, ‘Christmas without Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle is not Christmas.’

Let’s listen to an Italian sing it. How about – Pavarotti.

 

Here are the Lyrics.

Italian lyrics

1. Tu scendi dalle stelle,
O Re del Cielo,
E vieni in una grotta,
Al freddo al gelo,
E vieni in una grotta,
Al freddo al gelo.
O Bambino mio Divino,
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato,
Ahi, quanto ti costò,
L’avermi amato.
Ahi, quanto ti costò,
L’avermi amato.2. A te, che sei del mondo,
Il Creatore,
Mancano panni e fuoco;
O mio Signore.
Mancano panni e fuoco;
O mio Signore.
Caro eletto Pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà,
Più mi innamora.
Giacché ti fece amor,
Povero ancora.
Giacché ti fece amor,
Povero ancora.
English lyrics:

1. Thou descendest from the stars,
O King of Heaven,
And comest to a grotto,
In the cold, in the frost,
And comest to a grotto,
In the cold, in the frost.
O My Divine Child,
I see Thee here trembling,
O Blessed God,
Ah, how much it cost Thee,
To have loved me!
Ah, how much it cost Thee,
To have loved me.2. For Thee, Who art the world’s
Creator,
Clothing and warmth are missing;
Oh my Lord.
Clothing and warmth are missing;
Oh my Lord.
Dear chosen Infant,
How Thy poverty,
Makes me love Thee more.
Because Thou hast shown Thy love,
Even being poor.
Because Thou hast shown Thy love,
Even being poor.

Writing Historical Fiction

Tempesta’s Dream

Before the idea behind my novel, Tempesta’s Dream, ever stirred in my mind, I travelled to Milan with my wife. We strolled the streets of Milan, sat at its cafes, saw La Scala, the famous opera house, the Galleria, the first shopping mall ever created, and the Duomo, the great Cathedral of Milan.

I believe that an author’s main objective in historical fiction is to transport the reader to another place and/or another time, and to do so skillfully. Literary people will call this “escapism.”  However, with that objective, there comes a responsibility that the author has toward the reader. The author must take the time to describe accurately the place or setting that the author is using in the novel.

As I said, I walked the streets of Milan. So, it was easy for me to grasp that atmosphere when writing Tempesta’s Dream. It is reflected in some of the reviews I have received for the novel. For example:

“We can smell aromas as the author takes us past cafes and shops on the streets of Milan.” –Amazon Reviewer

“LoCoco skillfully brings to life the streets of Milan, so much that I could almost taste the espresso and smell the flowers on the cafe tables. Overall, just a very interesting, intelligent and believable book – 5 stars!” – Amazon Reviewer

“The author paints a vivid picture of Milanese life, populated with colorful denizens (most notably, retiree Alfredo, and Isabella, Giovanni’s soulmate) for whom the passion of opera is universal. Tempesta’s Dream’ will transport and inspire.” – Amazon Reviewer

However, in my novel, there is one place in Milan which comes to the forefront in the story. That place is the Casa di Riposo, or as it is called by locals, the Casa Verdi. The Casa Verdi in Milan stands as a towering tribute to the legacy of one of the greatest opera composers the world has ever known – Giuseppe Verdi.

Built in 1896 by Verdi, the Casa Verdi is a retirement home for retired singers, composers and musicians. Verdi’s dream was to build a home where musicians could retire in peace and be surrounded by others who at one time in their life were all involved in the arts. In his Last Will and Testament, Verdi granted all of his future royalties from all of his operas to help support the Casa di Riposo. Verdi said of this magical place, “The Casa di Riposo is my greatest work,” which is quite a statement when you think of his life’s output of his musical works. It is also at the Casa Verdi where Verdi and his wife are buried.

The Casa Verdi plays a major role in the novel as it is at the retirement home that our young protagonist, Giovanni Tempesta, pursuing his dream to become an opera tenor, finds Alfredo del Monte, a retired, blind opera singer, with a secretive past, who takes him on as a student. Yet it is the Casa di Riposo and the residents who leave there that actually takes a central place in the story.

Had I known that the Casa Verdi would one day take a part in a story I was going to write then I definitely would have made it a must stop. But, sad to say, I did not.

Which brings us to the point of this guest post. How can an author achieve realism in historical fiction when dealing with a real, existing place without actually visiting the location? In other words, how does one transport someone to a place that the author has not visited personally?

Of course, in the perfect world, an author would call his publisher, say I need to hop on a plane to get to Milan for two weeks to soak up the atmosphere and walk around the Casa Verdi, and then board that plane and enjoy a glorious two weeks with a pen, a journal and a camera, walking around the Casa Verdi and interviewing residents the whole time. Well, that will not happen for most authors.  And it certainly did not happen to me.

So what does an author do?

I think there are three things an author does when dealing with creating the atmosphere for a real place for which they have never seen personally.

RESEARCH. RESEARCH. AND RESEARCH: Read everything possible that you can find on the subject. Find pictures of the place and study them constantly.  Look for videos online. Talk to people who may have visited on a trip.  For historical fiction writers, like myself, this is the best part of writing. Discovering details about a place, all the while trying to figure out what and how you are going to incorporate it into the story.

USE YOUR OWN LIFE EXPEREINCES: The Casa di Riposo is a nursing home. My wife, for ten years, was a nursing home administrator in New Orleans. When I would go to her work, I would pay attention to the residents, the interaction of the staff and the residents, and the general feel of the place. True, I was not in Milan, but at least I could get a feel for how people react to situations, for that is one thing to understand, all people, no matter where from, react the same, with slight deviations for cultural reasons.

IMAGINATION: After steps 1 and 2, now the real fun begins. You let your imagination run wild, all the time staying within the parameters of your research and own life experiences.  And by that I mean, if the Casa di Riposo has more than one floor (which it does) do not make the building a one-story building.

By following those steps, it is hoped that a reader will completely be taken with the descriptions of the place, and in their own mind, they are sure that you must have spent many days at the locale to be able to describe it so well – when in reality the author never stepped a foot inside.

And even more important, will people who know the locale agree with the way the author described the place. There can be no greater joy for a writer to have a person very familiar with that location depicted in the novel to not only love the work, but acknowledge that the author nailed the description of the place instead of just throwing their hands up in disgust.

For me, after following the above steps, I had a great result, which provided me with great sense of relief. I received an email from the current President of the Casa Verdi who stated: “I offer you my warmest congratulations on your beautiful work that truly enhances the Casa Verdi and its’ residents.”

That certainly makes writing fun. So, in closing, for you readers out there, make sure you congratulate writers who do a great job describing locales you know well. And for the authors out there, live up to your responsibility, and take the time to get to know everything you can about a place, even if you have never seen it.

Chip LoCoco

New Orleans

Author of Tempesta’s Dream – A Story of Love, Friendship and Opera

Summary for Tempesta’s Dream:
Tempesta’s Dream is the story of an aspiring opera singer coming of age in Milan; a tender and moving love story; a testament to the bonds of friendship; and, at its core, a tribute to the beauty, majesty and miracle of opera.
Giovanni Tempesta always dreamed of becoming an opera tenor and one day singing from the stage of the La Scala Opera House in his hometown of Milan, Italy. But with no real training, his dream has little chance for fulfillment . . . One day, he meets and immediately falls in love with Isabella Monterone, a dark-haired beauty, whose father, a very rich and powerful Milanese Judge, refuses to allow his daughter to date a penniless musician . . . At the lowest part of his life, Giovanni comes upon the Casa di Riposo, a rest home for musicians established by the great opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi . . . It is at the Casa Verdi that Giovanni meets Alfredo del Monte, a blind, retired opera singer with a secretive past who gradually becomes his mentor . . . Could Alfredo be the one person who could assist Giovanni in finding the break he needs? Or is Giovanni destined to be on the cusp of reaching his life long dream, only to find failure? . . . Tempesta’s Dream, at its core, is an Italian opera love story. The author tells the story simply and swiftly with an ending that is both an emotional and poignant moment of both “amicizia e amore” (friendship and love.)

Sicilian Desserts

Everyone knows about gelato in Italy. Walk around an Italian town late at night, and watch all the visitors and locals enjoying their gelato. “Ahh, I love Italian desserts,” you will hear.

While this is true, Sicilian desserts are on a whole different level – of course, in my humble opinion.  How blessed are we in New Orleans to have a specialty gelato and dessert shop whose owners hail from the island of Sicily. The Brocato family came over from Cefalu, Sicily at the turn of the century. Angelo Brocato set up his gelato shop in the French Quarter. The rest as they say was history. The Sicilians who flocked to New Orleans to find a better life, loved visiting Brocato’s. Soon, Brocato’s moved to its present day location on Carrolton Avenue in Mid-City New Orleans.

Of course, they have gelato. But their other desserts are just as delicious.  Spumoni, Cassata, Bisquit Tortoni, Torrancino, and of course, Cannolis -to just name my favorites.

Next time you find yourself in New Orleans, or, if you are a local and have some time to kill in Mid-City, step back in time and enter Brocato’s. You will not regret it.

Chip LoCoco

Happy Veterans Day

As we approach Veterans Day tomorrow, I just wanted to send out my prayers and thankful thoughts to all Veterans who laid their life on the line for the protection of Democracy. To live a life of service to others and to Country is well worth remembrance from all Americans.

 (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Thank you for your service.

Chip LoCoco

A Stunning Butterfly Duet

I just needed to share this video of Madama Butterfly. This is the great duet that ends act 1. The video itself is somewhat poor,  but watchable. The performance is stellar, and worth the trouble.

The performance is from New York City Opera in 1982 with Judith Haddon as Madama Butterfly and the American tenor, Jerry Hadley, as Pinkerton.

This is a fantastic, moving performance. Their voices match each other in beauty. Just sit back and enjoy.

The Italian Curse

In Italian culture, a curse has always played a major role in society and the means by which  bad luck (or worse)  is brought upon another. A curse placed on someone was not taken lightly. It kindled the superstitious fears of individuals. Italians placed curses many ways, with the most common in the form of the Malocchi0 (Evil Eye).

So of course, curses play in role in all facets of Italian culture, including opera and film. Here are just a few brief examples.

In Verdi’s Rigoletto, the Court Jester, Rigoletto, who was cursed at the beginning of the opera by the father of a young woman, remembers the curse as his own daughter dies.

Or in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, there is Santuzza’s curse to Turridu which makes your hair stand up as she wishes him a terrible Easter.

And lastly, we turn to film. Moonstruck of course, which shows the Malocchio is alive and well in the Italian-American societies.

So the next time you are watching a film or an opera in which Italians play a role, pay attention and see if they discuss a curse or the evil eye.

Vincent LoCoco

Author of Tempesta’s Dream and A Song for Bellafortuna

Nino Florio aka Giuseppe di Stefano

This month we celebrate the birth of Giuseppe di Stefano, an opera singer from Sicily, who sang all over the world including Milan, New York, Vienna and even in New Orleans. At the very start of his musical studies, which began around the time of WWII, the young tenor was drafted into the Italian Army. He became known around camp as the singing soldier, where he entertained the troops with Neapolitan love ballads. His battalion was soon awarded the glorious opportunity of being shipped off to the Russian front, but thanks to the regimental doctor who loved opera, di Stefano was given a certificate that he could not serve on the front line. He stayed behind singing to the troops.

Then in 1943, Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. Germany invaded Sicily and started rounding up Italian troops and sending them to POW camps.

Di Stefano fled to Switzerland and stayed in a refugee camp. While there, he began singing and the camp’s inhabitants were much impressed. The camp commander allowed him to leave the camp on occasion and he began to sing all over Switzerland. He sang using the pseudonym, Nino Florio, to avoid problems with the Germans. In 1944, a priest heard him singing in a cafe and he put him in touch with the head of Radio Lussane. He was quickly invited to record with them.

Here is one of his recordings he made in 1944 from Manon by Massenet. Di Stefano is only 24 years old. He is still two years away from his debut in opera and three years away from his first appearance at La Scala in the same role heard in this excerpt. He would thereafter explode onto the opera scene.

This is the voice that would soon take over Italy and the world and would later become the main partner to the great Maria Callas. What a joy to have this recording of such a young, gifted singer. Even here, you can hear the perfect diction, the unabashed passionate tone, and style. This was the voice that Pavarotti, and in particular, Jose Carreras, would try to emulate.

Listen and enjoy Nino Florio aka Giuseppe di Stefano.

 

Capri and Pompeii

Continuing a recap of our Italian vacation, Part 2 will look at our visit to the island of Capri and the ancient ruins of the town of Pompeii.

Capri, known as the playground of the Emperors, is an island accessible from the city of Sorrento by boat. Surrounded by crystal clear blue water, Capri is stunningly beautiful. You arrive in the Port, known locally as Marina Grande. A Fannicula railroad leads you up to the main square of Capri. You can also take an uphill walk that will lead you the square as well. There you will find shopping, food, and high-end stores. But most of all, you will be awarded some of the best views in all of Italy. Here are a few pics of Capri.

The Blue Grotto was closed when we were there but will add a picture here as it is a must do if you are able.

It’s easy to see why there are ruins of palaces of the emperors on the island, who insisted on spending long periods of time living on the island.

 

Pompeii is the ancient town that sits at the base of Mt. Vesuvius, which always looms in the background as a majestic reminder of the absolute horror that occurred in 79 AD when the volcano erupted, entombing the city and its inhabitants. I highly recommend a tour guide who can lead you through the vast streets of Pompeii. It’s a fascinating insight into the way people of that time lived. I just love being able to walk these same streets and enter the same buildings that people did so long ago. But as I said, a tour guide can really bring it to life. If you just can’t find a tour guide, then I would recommend downloading Rick Steve’s Audio Europe which offers a great walking tour of the main sites while you listen on your phone.

Here are a few pics first of Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples from Sorrento ….

 

and then Pompeii itself.

Capri and Pompeii – A stunning, must see, part of Southern Italy.

Chip LoCoco

Author of A Song of Bellafortuna.

Giuseppe di Stefano

Today is the birthday of Giuseppe di Stefano – A tenor from Sicily. Perhaps one of the best voices the world has ever produced.

Here is a brief clip to help celebrate.

Perfect diction. Exquisite phrasing. Passionate singing.

That sums up Giuseppe di Stefano.

Chip LoCoco